Works in Progress: Februrary 2021

Here in the Texas Hill Country, it doesn’t usually get very cold–not much below freezing and then for only a couple of hours. This week, though, we’ll join all of you Northerners in the cold that’s pushing down from the Arctic. The weather folks are telling us that we’ll be in the 20s for a couple of days. We may even see a little snow.

Which makes it a good time to stay inside by the fire with my current piece of needlework: “Canal Home,” an Artecy chart from a painting by David Mclean. I’m doing it on 18-count Aida–19.5 x 14″. 72 colors (most of them out of my stash). It’s a challenging piece of work that occupies me for a couple of hours every evening, usually with a book to listen to. I like doing these large projects: you can see the one I just finished (and several more) in the craft gallery here.

My 2019 and 2020 projects haven’t been framed yet. That requires a trip to Austin and I’m putting that off until I get my Covid vaccination, which may be a while. The vaccine rollout in Texas is chaotic. Our rural county (where almost 25% of us are over 65) has received fewer than 2000 doses so far. Those doses went (as they should) to health-care and other essential workers. But I’m not going to fret about what I can’t change. Staying home suits me: I’m a hermit at heart. And I love our Hill Country winters, with their quiet gray days and the view of the silent woods from my window. This year, we’ve already enjoyed one brief and very pretty snowfall–maybe there’ll be more. (Apologies to those of you who are digging out for the umpteenth time and are sick of snow.)

Also in progress this winter, another book. I occasionally think of retiring, but as long as there are projects that interest me, I’ll keep on writing. The current work is another Dahlias mystery: The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker. A frivolous title, yes–that’s the nature of these “cozy” mysteries.

But the questions that interest me are nowhere near “cozy.” The book is set in late August/early September of 1935, when Huey Long was revving up his populist “Every Man a King” campaign, threatening FDR and the precarious political stability of the country. I often wonder what would have happened if Long hadn’t been killed (on September 8, accidentally, it now seems, by his bodyguards). Would he have split the Democratic ticket in 1936, handed the Oval Office to the GOP, and  gone on to win the presidency on a third-party ticket in 1940? How would Long (described by a contemporary as “the personification of the fascist menace”) have responded to the challenge of WW2? Those are the questions that resonate for me in the background of an otherwise simple mystery about an arsonist that is threatening Darling. And which reminded me (as I watched the mob’s assault on our legislators as they were certifying the 2020 election) that until we understand our history, we are indeed doomed to repeat it.

And yet more books. 2021 will see the publication of several more books. The library hardcover edition of The Darling Dahlias and the Voodoo Lily will be published in early April; the audiobook will follow shortly. Please let your librarians know so they can order it. The next (#28!) China Bayles mystery, Hemlock, will be published on September 7 in hardcover, paperback, digital, and audio. Loving Eleanor is being shopped by Taleflick for film/TV, and A Wilder Rose remains under film option, “in development.” I was glad to see the recent American Masters attention to Rose Wilder Lane but disappointed, too. There’s far more to the Rose-and-Laura story than AM was willing (or felt able) to tell.

Please stay warm this winter, wherever you are. And stay safe. I have the feeling that those two small words will hold a special meaning for all of us for the rest of our lives.

Reading note. We are not makers of history. We are made by history.–Martin Luther King






39 comments on “Works in Progress: Februrary 2021

  1. dear ms. albert. I love the Darling Dahlias series!!! Will you be writing more???? please please please I find each one of them fresh, creative, with strong protagonists and story lines. I do hope there will be more. There is still much to be learned from the Darling Dahlias. Thank you. patti s

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you for a new Darling Dahlas book to look forward to!!!! I have enjoyed all of your books, but there is something about the Dahlas books that touch my heart. For twenty five years I lived away from the South and missed it. Happily I am now back “home” and am revisiting the little town of Darling. Now I have a new one to look forward to and I am delighted. I wish you happy writing!

  3. Glenna, that grid is a huge time/frustration saver. On the current project (all-over stitching) I did it in pencil–hardest lead I could find.Not necessary on simple projects but on more complicated ones, a necessity.

  4. Just fell in love with China in your first book. Read all of them up to date in just a few months. Looking forward to more. Also by seeing your wonderful cross stitch on facebook and how you did the grid first helped me see how to do more difficult pieces without getting into a mess. Really enjoy your newsletter and info in it. Take care and glad you were ok “so far” from the great freeze. I live in SW Okla. and we had much the same weather but were very fortunate to not loose power.

  5. It has been along, cold week in Houston but we made it. Got water today! I was born and raised In Louisiana so I am really looking forward to the new Darling book. I LOVE that series. There is an excellent program about Huey P. on PBS which shows many actual pictures and recordings of him. I hope you have been or will be able to see it. I enjoy everything you write. PLEASE don’t retire!!

  6. Please keep the Darling books coming. I am currently re-reading them all from the beginning having just finished Voodoo Lilly. These ladies seem like part of my family and the books transport me to a simpler, yet similar time. Thank you

  7. In love with the latest of your needlework work-in-progress. Hunkered down in Cedar Park, happy to have heat and internet and books. Stay warm and safe!

  8. I’m so pleased to hear China will be back in September!! She is one of my all time favorite characters. The description of winter at your home sounds lovely. Here in the northeast it’s more of a hassle but I’m happy to have the varying seasons. Enjoy your quiet time with your needlework and writing. Stay safe and healthy!

  9. Loved your description of November weather. Here in MN with our ever changing seasons, November’s patterns and shade of gray remind me of the often subtle nuances of the universe. Looking forward to the continuation of the Dahlia series.

  10. I continue to be amazed at your ability to create such different book series and how much I learn from them. Your characters become friends and I am delighted to be able to look forward to new China and Dahlia books. I think that, like you, I amsomething of a hermit and you have made staying home so much more satisfying. I am thrilled that you still find pleasure and satisfaction in sharing your interests and accomplishments with your readers. Stay warm and safe.

  11. I’ll definitely track down the book link. Thanks! And while I can recall parts of the movie version of All the King’s Men (I think it was showing here a couple of days ago!), I’ve not read the book. I’ll grab that one as well. I always loved it when we read The Great Gatsby in AP English Lit. Despite the “time difference,” it remains one of my kids’ favorite reads. A well-told story with timeless themes and characters you feel you’d meet in real life has just the most magical powers! Off to the paper trail I go!

  12. Marilyn, I’m not doing puzzles right now, but I agree–they are a joy and (well-chosen) can engage us deeply in recreating art. And yes: impermanence. They are like Buddhist sand paintings, seems to me: designed to be created, recreated, un/created.

  13. Hi Susan. I always love reading your insights and historical perspective. Always so thoughtful and deep. I’m glad you’ve been busy too. You are a marvel and an inspiration for those of us who are not so young anymore. My hope is to be able to continue growing and creating to a ripe old age. Be well and stay safe. Indeed.

  14. Hello
    What a treat knowing Darling and Pecan Springs will be ‘sharing’ with readers again. My Great-aunt Edith grew up in the time period of Darling so I have an extra fondness for the series. Thank you for many years of enjoyment and thought. Please stay safe and well.

  15. Thank you for helping me realize that my evening art jigsaw puzzles are the equivalent of knitting or needlework (both of which I can no longer do due to arthritis), with the added benefit of teaching me about impermanence. They involve the same love of color and beauty, and a high level of challenge if one does the Impressionists, as I do! Glad to know there are more Dahlias and Chinas coming down the pike because you WANT to do them; I’ll keep an eye out on my iBook reader offerings! And welcome to the world of more-or-less-retirement; it (total retirement, in my case) is a privilege that has helped me enormously in this time of covid, and I’m glad to see you gently setting your own limits!

  16. Beth, this is the book that has taught me the most: It accurately captures the political setting. I wish I could have read it (it wasn’t written until 1991) when I moved to New Orleans. I would have understood so much more about the labyrinth that is Louisiana. Have you read Robert Penn Warren’s ALL THE KING’S MEN? A bit like THE GREAT GATSBY: it reveals the growing discomfort of a man who witnesses the rise–and fall–of a politician seduced by his own power.

  17. Meant to ask you, Susan, which books you’d recommend reading re Huey Long and the Every Man a King part of US history. I’d heard of Huey Long, even knew a bit about him. But didn’t know anything about this — or the parallels to current times. Thanks!

  18. I thought (erroneously) that “Poinsettia” was the last of the Darling Dahlias series. There were a couple of positive comments about Huey Long made by the garden club members; and I was hoping the series would reveal his true nature to them. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Darling, AL, is about to learn the truth in “Red Hot Poker”! I love historical fiction and you weave it so well into your plots. I think Dutch-born Jan de Hartog lived in Texas. Did you ever read The Peaceable Kingdom? OMG!! Well, it’s below zero for the week here in MN and I’m enjoying my dog and “Widow’s Tears” audio book while I make a big pot of pea soup! Regards, Joyce

  19. Happy to hear I’ve got so many new books to look forward to. I’ve loved all your series but the Beatrix Potter Cottage tales have a special place in my heart.

  20. I still read all your books in the Netherlands. It takes them a while to get here, but your books are so worth the wait!

  21. Okay, I’ll start reading The Darling Dahlias books. Your Huey Long tease got me! 🙂 Also looking forward to A Wilder Rose and of course Hemlock! Up here in the Pacific Northwest the audio versions of your China Bayles books have kept me company through many, many hours of needlework. Your brilliance, dare I say magic in creating ever new stories is rare and refreshing! So finding a bit of that magic here in your blog is all the more enjoyed! Many thanks for sharing how you stay sharp!

  22. Somehow I missed the Wilder Rose until your last post. It is on the top of my pile, next to read. Now you have set me off on a research project about Huey Long. I was never interested in history and was able to complete my required credit for high school government by stuffing envelopes for a campaign for someone I never heard of and had no idea what office they were seeking. I had no idea that an election when I was 60 years old would turn me into a student of history and government. Twice a week I watch Facebook live history talks with Heather Cox Richardson, subscribed to new-to-me online newspapers and magazines and now know more about the workings of our government and the history of the how and why then I ever imagined. I really thought my goal was to be a lady who lunches when I retired.

  23. Oh Susan, so glad to hear that Hemlock will be coming out. Love the China Bayles series and just finished the trilogy “Dead Lines, Fault Line, Fire Lines”…couldn’t put it down and would love to hear more about Jessica and Dr. Mark!!! As always,your writing and depth of knowledge and research combine to make engrossing reading. Looking forward to some fireplace weather here in NE Medina County…we always have the Rufous hummers during the Winter but was shocked to see a Ruby-Throat join them toward the end of January…they don’t usually arrive until the end of February and was so afraid we had seen the end of our Winter!!! Take care and stay safe!!!

  24. We’ve had a mostly mild winter so far here in the Willamette Valley (OR), but the forecast is for considerable snow and cold temps (not over low 30s during the day) later this coming week. Ack! So, I’m in the process of making my lists of what I need to get out of the shed and pick up at the grocers. Our library is doing an order-online-pickup-curbside these days so I need to lay in a supply of my favorite China, Dahlias, and Beatrix books! Thanks so much for sharing your fabulous story-telling gifts!

  25. I have read all China Bayles and The Darling Dahlias books. I really enjoy them and can’t wait for the new arrivals
    Thank you for all the enjoyment these books give me.

  26. Your snow picture is lovely! I won’t complain if we get one more snowy day here in Austin next week. Can’t wait for the new China Bayles book. It’s my favorite series. I hope you will start another one soon (like before another Dahlias book)! They are so good. Reading about Pecan Springs and surrounding areas sustained me while waiting to move to Austin. Please, please give us more! 💕

  27. Can’t wait until September for “Hemlock”. Love your writings, and love our Hill Country and the snow – and then the Spring. Thanks, Susan. Good luck with your stitching.

  28. I enjoyed your historical comments. It does seem true that the newer generation has a hard time believing history. We that have lived through some of it realize the ramifications if we don’t honor what has happened in the past and we should not repeat some of the incidents. The new social media does leave questions of how the news can be manipulated. Keep up the excellent writing. I agree with one reader that your characters are like friends and I don’t want to loose them. In real life I have lost too many. Stay safe!

  29. Hi Susan,
    I’m looking forward to the new books. It’s not freezing near the Port of Los Angeles, but the mountaints have snow. One of the reasons my father was happy to move to Los Angeles (many years ago) was the lack of snow to shovel. After growing up in Brownwood, Texas and living is Mass., he had shoveled enough. In my garden, the camellia is blooming, narcissus about done, no arugula – need to get some plants at the Farmers’ Market.

  30. Loved your newsletter and all the good news about forthcoming books. I just finished the Darling Dahlia series and look forward to a new one. And I always am happy to read another China Bayles book. I plan to read about Rose and Eleanor next. Stay warm and stay safe. I live a couple of hundred miles north you, so it will be a little colder here.

  31. Faye, lovely to hear from you again. Re: KC. Nothing in the works. I haven’t retired from writing, but I HAVE retired from book travel/signing/speaking. I don’t even do Zoom. My excuse: my satellite is slow and very wonky, which is true. But the truer truth is that I can live without the interruptions. 🙂

  32. Hi Susan. I, like all the “posters” above, can’t wait for your next China Bayles and Dahlia’s mysteries. Reading has been my SAVIOR during covid. And your characters are like friends I can visit or go out to eat with or even solve a mystery with. Great diversions. DON”T RETIRE from writing, ok?
    Coming north to KC area anytime?? Would love to sponsor a reading/book signing, etc??
    Faye Miller, Atchison KS

  33. I’m so glad to hear my books are coming. I have just about finished reading all of your existing work – and enjoyed all of it!

  34. Susan,

    Thanks so much for letting me know that China will return. I have marked September 7 on my calendar. I love the Dahlias, too, so I am looking forward to that.

    It is freezing here in north central Arizona, too. We have had temps in the high 20’s overnight for weeks now, and it warms up during the day. My parsley is peeking out now again.


  35. Thanks for sharing Susan. I love hearing about your counted cross work projects! Can’t wait for the new books, especially China Bayles. ❤️ I’m a native Austinite and born, raised and STILL here so I’m getting ready for the next winter blast coming. I’m hoping it snows again. Hope you stay warm and cozy with your hubby and X stitch project! ✌️🌟

  36. You do beautiful work. I never learned needle point. I used to do cross stitch but don’t have the patience or the eyes for it anymore. Mostly, I read a lot, but enjoy crochet and I want to try my hand at alcohol inks and poured paint.

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